Thoughts on Work Part 2
In a previous post I wrote about my own personal employment history and the various ups and downs of my working life (so far). In this post I want to reflect upon the broader concept of work, because it has radically changed since I entered the job market in the late eighties. Contracts, job descriptions, the working environment and even the way in which we find work have evolved rapidly due to the internet and the advent of social media. Some of these changes have been good, but others I feel have been detrimental for job seekers. The job market is always subject to a lot of ebb and flow and depending on the state of the economy, it can either favour of the employer or employee. At present in the UK, it strikes me as being very much the former.
When I left full time education at the age of eighteen (I didn’t want to go to university as I had no clear career plan), the commonest means to find work were the classified ads of certain regional newspapers. Applications where usually made in writing or you’d request an application form by return of post. You could also visit your local Job Centre (which are part of the Department of Work and Pensions), which not only handled social security benefits but also listed local jobs. However, most of the work advertised at the time, tended to be unskilled labour and traditional “blue collar” positions. However, regardless of how you looked for work, the process was slow and ponderous. Positions were advertised for a fixed period of time and selections for interview often ran to a strict timetable. As I had no specific idea of what I wanted to do, I ended up in a government position, working in the UK Civil Service.
During the last major financial crash back in 2008-2009, I found finding contract work a little harder due to the market slowing, so I visited the Job Centre a few times. Twenty years on, the sort of positions available there had changed considerably so it was quite useful to peruse their listings. I spoke to several people during that time who had lost their jobs and it was quite a culture shock to be back in the jobs market. Many had not adjusted to the necessity with registering with online recruitment agencies and learning when the key times were to search and apply for work. Many were still carrying paper copies of their Curriculum vitae (résumé) and trying to find jobs via the press. It was a steep learning curve for them. Many job markets now have preferred ways of presenting your skills and work history. Plus the modern job markets requires applicant to be able to effectively sell themselves. Employers don’t just want the right skills but the right type of person. Some people just can’t handle the “you are your own brand” concept.
Moving on from how one finds work, I would like to reflect upon the actual work environment itself, because when you step back and look at it objectively, it really is an incongruous concept. At its heart it is founded upon the hope and belief that a complete group of strangers are expected to get on. Furthermore, this goes beyond being able to work co-cooperatively. There is usually an expectation of some sort of wider cordial relationship. Hence, we find that birthdays, marriages and other social activities are dragged into the workplace. There are cards to sign, collections to contribute to and drinks after work to go to. The other thing that has struck me, is how despite robust recruitment processes, how so many obviously socially and emotionally dysfunctional people fly under the radar and find gainful employment. Bullies, racists, misogynists, tedious bores and people who are just lazy or shit at their job abound. Over the course of my 30-year working life, I’ve seen so many square pegs in round holes. Considering the friction and drama that arises so often within the work environment, I am genuinely surprised that there isn’t a higher murder rate stemming from work.
Another thing that has changed about work culture, is that it is no longer just about being skilled at what you do. Now everyone is trying to be the best they can be, working towards a personal development plan, striving for targets and reaching for goals. This sort of corporate bullshit may be applicable to highfliers and certain types of jobs. But is it relevant to cleaners? Should someone on minimum wage, working a zero hours contract worry about whether they’re bringing value to their work, or upholding the company mission statement while mopping up faecal matter? But where corporate attitudes towards work have changed, so has that of employees and wider society. People of my parent’s generation where sold the myth that if you work hard, you’d be rewarded. Although this can still happen, for many it is no longer true. Too many people have got wise to the fact that they’re doing a pointless or arbitrary job, with no major hopes of advancement. They are neither respected nor valued by their employer, who mainly sees them as an asset. A tool to be used and then put down immediately when it’s no longer required. Social media has shown how the other half lives and popped a lot of bubbles. People now know that their life is pretty much pre-ordained by factors such as where you are born, the quality of your education and the social economic group you belong to. Therefore the modern workplace can be fractious and jobs are sometimes not done well, because why bother?
Despite growing up in the seventies, I do not believe that I am defined by my job (which I perceive to be a very American outlook). I have learnt the true value of leisure time and over the years have worked mainly for my own intellectual stimulation and just for the money. But many people don’t have that luxury. They do the jobs that are available, rather than what they desire and have little say over the salaries they earn. Furthermore, I suspect that this situation will only get worse. AI and globalism will further continue to reshape the employment market. There will be less jobs and those available will require more skills. Governments will need to have plans to address such a state of affairs or there will be consequences. As for me. I sometimes miss the social aspects of work but only because I was very fortunate with most of my colleagues. But commuting and listening to friend’s stories about what goes down where they work, soon makes me appreciate that I’m well out of all this. When my granddaughters get older, I shall try and impress upon them that need to gain skills. As I believe this is the key to successfully navigating the jobs market and ensuring that your working life is something you control, rather than something that happens to you.